Jessica Cejnar / Wednesday, Feb. 17 @ 5:40 p.m. / Community, Local Government
Crescent City Council Moves to Bring Back Swim Lessons, Discusses Potential Changes To Pool Rates
After finding out swim lessons are permissible even in the most restrictive COVID-19 tier, the Crescent City Council on urged staff to begin reopening the Fred Endert Municipal Pool.
This process includes hiring and training lifeguards, which could take about six weeks and is subject to high school and college students’ schedules, Crescent City Recreation Director Holly Wendt said.
The pool could reopen as soon as April, but as long as Del Norte County stays in the Red Tier on California’s four-tiered Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the city can only offer swim lessons, she said.
“In every tier pools are allowed to do swimming lessons,” she said, adding that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed swim lessons to move forward to prevent drowning. “It’s the only thing you’re allowed to do. We can open (our) doors to a reduced capacity in Orange and to an increased capacity in Yellow. We can’t open the pool for any other services in Red or Purple except swim lessons.”
In allowing staff to go ahead with reopening the swimming pool, the City Council voted unanimously to allocate $176,606 in extra funding for personnel and utility costs. According to City Manager Eric Wier, that money will come from the city’s first installment of Measure S funds.
Crescent City voters approved Measure S, a 1 percent sales tax increase, in November. That sales tax increase is expected to generate $1.3 million that is slated to pay for public safety, road repairs and the swimming pool.
“Measure S payments start in April and we’ll get a quarter of it this (fiscal) year,” Wier said. “That’s approximately $300,000 in Measure S funding. If the Council chooses to move forward with this, this $176,000 could come from the first quarter of that payment.”
Other potential items that money could be used for include realizing the Crescent City Police Department’s staffing goals as well as vehicle replacement at the department, according to Wier.
The Fred Endert Municipal Pool has been closed for nearly a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after shuttering the pool, City Councilors realized that an $800,000 budget deficit for the 2020-21 fiscal year made operating the facility infeasible. Keeping the pool closed saved the city about $370,000 a year.
During the pool’s closure, the city spent made repairs to the pool, including fixing the heater and Chemtrol sensors, repainting its deck and providing more storage space above the restroom, a cost of about $10,020, according to Wendt. The city also spent $785 for training equipment, including manikins and bag valve masks and viral filters to conduct CPR safely during the pandemic.
A month before Measure S passed, Wendt brought Councilors a masterplan for reopening the pool safely during the pandemic, including implementing lap swimming, exercise programs, aerobics classes and swim lessons.
Del Norte County entered the Red Tier on California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy earlier this month. Though it's a less restrictive tier than Purple, the Red Tier indicates there is substantial risk of COVID-19 transmission in the county. Del Norte would have to be in the Orange or Yellow tiers, which indicate moderate or minimal risk of viral transmission, for the swimming pool to reopen.
Wendt went over that plan again on Tuesday and introduced Councilors to the city’s new aquatics supervisor, Alissa Garcia. The pool will be able to serve up to 27 swimmers at a time and would operate on an online reservation system to provide for social distancing.
As for swim lessons, a parent must be with a child who is unable to tread water, or under the “Blue Swim” category, Wendt said. Instructors will teach lessons from the deck. Students can bring equipment including life vests and other flotation devices. Evening and weekend hours will also be considered for parents who can’t bring their kids in during the day, Wendt said.
“As soon as we know we can open, we’ll educate parents on what does that look like (and) the levels of swimming that would require a parent to be in the pool,” she told Councilors. “We’ll do outreach to see how many parents come in and do swim lessons during the day and how many need swim lessons at night after work.”
Wendt, noting that California minimum wage is expected to increase to $15 an hour in 2022, said personnel costs were a concern of a community-led swimming pool stakeholder group.
Since 2017 when the state’s Minimum Wage Phase Requirement went into effect, the cost for lifeguards at the pool went up an average of $12,000 per year, according to the city’s staff report. In 2022, that annual amount is expected to increase by $72,000 in payroll costs compared to 2016, according to the report.
As a result, Wendt asked Councilors to consider changing the pool’s fees, eliminating the sale of its 50-visit punch card and either discontinuing its winter sale of annual passes or making that sale price the regular cost to patrons.
Staff propose decreasing daily fees for youth from $5 to $4 and eliminating the 7-17 age stipulation. Senior daily fees would continue to be $5 and adult daily fees would go from $5.50 to $6, according to the city’s staff report.
For the pool’s 10-punch pass, staff propose a $5 increase to senior and adult passes, which are $40 and $45 currently, and creating a $36 youth pass. According to Wendt, the idea is for these passes to pay for nine visits and offer patron a free 10th visit.
Instead of 50-punch passes, city staff proposed offering a monthly pass instead at $40 for youth, $60 for adults and $50 for seniors.
The swimming pool’s masterplan called for phasing the 50-visit passes out, stating that increasing the 10-visit punch card fee would be equivalent with the pool’s regular daily admission. Out of 131 50-visit passes sold, 92 of them were sold at sale prices, according to the city’s staff report.
Those who still have 50-visit passes will be able to use them until they expire or until their visits are exhausted.
“Annual passes should have already been refunded, so if someone still has them and they haven’t been refunded they should contact us,” Wier told Councilors on Tuesday. “Punch passes, with modified openings, get tricky. We’ll allow them to use the punch pass until they’re used up. Once we get fully opened — say you have three months left from when we first shut the pool down — we will say now that all programs are open, you have three months left to use the punch pass.”
Staff also propose increasing the rental fee for the pool’s slide from $30 to $50 to cover the costs of the additional staff needed to operate it, Wendt said.
Staff also recommend increasing swim lesson fees to cover increased minimum wage costs.
Parents are excited for swim lessons to start back up again, Councilors Blake Inscore and Isaiah Wright told staff.
Inscore, noting that Measure S included the swimming pool because water safety was important, bringing swim lessons back is something “we need to do.”
“We can’t predict what’s going to happen,” he said. “We don't know when we’re going to get into Orange. Our case counts are up again. I want to get staff back, get them trained, get them working and I want swimming lessons to start immediately. We just need to do this for our community.”
Crescent City Mayor Jason Greenough asked Wendt about continuing a partnership with Del Norte Unified School District to offer swim lessons to local fourth-graders. Greenough name-dropped Superintendent Jeff Harris’s name when Wendt said she couldn’t reach school district staffer who had coordinated that problem.
“Right now fourth-grade swim lessons might be tricky, but if the district was willing to do this and bus small groups — that’s the cost to the district — if they’re interested in doing it, we could figure out a way to do it,” Wendt said.
As for eliminating the 50-visit punch cards, Inscore proposed putting that on a future City Council agenda, stating he and his colleagues weren’t prepared to take action on proposed rates.
“That provides an opportunity for the community to weigh in,” he said.
In response to a question from resident Grant Hodges, who asked about maintaining old equipment at the swimming pool, Wier said a special City Council meeting will be held Monday to discuss an energy efficiency project that could include replacing HVAC systems, looking at solar power options and other measures to save on utility costs.